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6:56 am PT, Wednesday, May 25, 2005
$30-Million & Counting The Stupidity - Removing Oregon's Savage Rapids Dam - An Enviro's Wet Dream
By Dennis M. Becklin
Publisher / Oregon News Online

Grants Pass, Oregon - The US Bureau of Reclamation now estimates that removal of Savage Rapids Dam, located on the Rogue River in Southern Oregon, will cost an astonishing $30-Million. With BoR's foreknowledge that this dam does not kill the very salmon and steelhead its removal is supposedly going to protect, this dam removal project is a testimonial to the corruption of environmentalism.

This dam removal project is also a testimonial to the infinite stupidity of US Government involvement in this project and to the environmental complicity of the media in spreading false information about the dam.



Removing Savage Rapids Dam was the brainchild of Bob Hunter, founder and former executive director of WaterWatch of Oregon. Hunter is now just a staff attorney for this environmental law firm that he founded. Hunter personally led the efforts of radical enviros who wanted to remove Savage Rapids Dam.


I have complete contempt for the false charges Hunter, WaterWatch and other "environmental" organizations brought against Savage Rapids Dam. The claim that the dam is "The Biggest Fish Killer on the Rogue River" is baloney. Hunter and WaterWatch even falsely claimed that the dam had no fish ladders in a large grant application they made to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The claim that Savage Rapids Dam is in poor condition due to its age is another falsehood spread by the dam's opponents.


WaterWatch, like so many other "environmental' organizations, is little more than a law firm that has attorneys as its primary staffers. It is repugnant to me that many purportedly environmental stewardship organizations are manned by attorneys who are compensated for their efforts to bring lawsuits against the rest of America. Enjoy reading the bios of the attorneys who populate WaterWatch of Oregon.   http://www.waterwatch.org/About/Staff%20and%20Board.htm


The removal of Savage Rapids Dam is an approaching ecosystem disaster for the Rogue River and the entire Grants Pass region, which receives a substantial percentage of its water from the Grants Pass Irrigation District (GPID). This region depends on thousands of water wells that are served by a regional aquifer fed by seepage from GPID's canals and irrigated lands. When this water supply dries up, residents of the Grants Pass region should thank those who made the greatest contributions to the calamitous cessation of water flowing in GPID canals. Those at the top of the thank you list should include:


1. Thank Bob Hunter - WaterWatch of Oregon - Thank this environmental attorney for living in Medford while attacking the irrigation district in Grants Pass, which since 1921 has provided 45% of the water for thousands of domestic water wells which are dependent on irrigation recharge of the aquifer in this region surrounded by 300-miles of GPID canals and laterals. 


2. Thank former Governor John Kitzhaber - Thank him for stabbing in the back the community leaders he appointed to his 1996 Task Force on Savage Rapids Dam. Following his repudiation of the recommendations of the Task Force he appointed, the Kitzhaber administration encouraged the Clinton era US Government to attack GPID using the Endangered Species Act as the blackjack. Thank Kitzhaber, too, for the participation of his administration in the fraudulent listing of northwestern coho salmon under the US Endangered Species Act and for his administration's use of the phony ESA coho listing to attack GPID.


3. Thank Martha Pagel - Former Director of the Oregon Water Resources Department - Thank her for faithfully carrying out the directives of the Kitzhaber administration in its persistent attacks on the Grants Pass Irrigation District.


4. Thank Michael Jewett, former member of the Oregon Water Resources Commission and more recently former City Attorney for the City of Medford, Oregon. Thank him for living in Medford while attacking the irrigation dam that provided water to residents of Josephine County, 30-miles from his home town and 30-miles from any potential impact on the water serving his home or his hometown.


5. Thank Don Greenwood, Judy Gove and Bert Dosier - members of the 2000 Board of Directors of the Grants Pass Irrigation District. Thank them for voting to accept total and unconditional surrender to WaterWatch...total and unconditional capitulation to the US Government...and total and unconditional surrender to the State of Oregon in return for no guaranteed protection for GPID or the Grants Pass community...nothing...nada....zilch. The deal that they approved included no guarantee of Federal funding for dam removal or pump installation, no guarantee of future delivery of irrigation water to arid regions of Josephine County served by GPID, no guarantee of financial support for the cost of running electrically operated irrigation pumps, and no guarantee of protection for the irreplaceable Rogue River, which could be inundated by tens of thousands of tons of sediment that is now trapped above the dam.


6. Thank the Grants Pass Daily Courier and the Medford Mail Tribune newspapers - Thank these local newsrags for consistently failing to support the well documented fact that Savage Rapids Dam is not a "fish killer". Thank them for contributing to the belief by the majority of citizens in the Rogue Valley that the enviros' libelously false mantra stating that Savage Rapids Dam is the "Biggest Fish Killer On The Rogue River" is true. Thank these newsrags also for the coming elimination of the recreational lake that is impounded by the dam. Thank them also when the Rogue River ecosystem is seriously harmed by the disbursal of tens-of-thousands of cubic yards of sediment that is now trapped above the dam.


7. Thank the US Bureau of Reclamation - Thank this US Government Agency for falsified fish kill reporting in its 1994 Planning Report and Final Environmental Statement for Savage Rapids Dam and for then using its own falsified data to justify removal of the dam. Thank BoR for deciding in 1994 that it wasn't necessary to conduct an actual fish kill study at the dam because it had accepted the opinion of one eye-witness who concluded that 22% of all salmon and steelhead passing it were goners by simply observing water flowing over the dam.


Thank BoR for calculating the value of salmon and steelhead purportedly killed by the dam at over $150 each, even though tens of thousands of excess salmon are sold each year for cat food and fertilizer at an average value of $3-5 each by the US Corps of Engineers at the fish hatchery which is 50-miles upstream from the dam.


Thank BoR for spending $4-Million in a full-employment program for its employees during 10+ years of incessant studying and planning of dam removal issues at Savage Rapids Dam. Thank BoR for refusing to accept the findings and final recommendations by the 1996 Savage Rapids Dam Task Force, of which I was the Chairman, that cautioned against placing pumps on the north side of the river for fear they would be inundated by tens-of-thousands of tons of sediment when the dam is removed. And, thank BoR for recently deciding to put all of the pumps on the south side of the river in an obvious effort to keep them from being buried in sediments that will cascade down river toward the intakes of the water supply system for the City of Grants Pass.


Finally, thank BoR for now its most recent plan, which will leave only an ugly portion of Savage Rapids Dam in place and for planning to build a monstrosity of a pipeline over the top of the remaining section of the dam. The pipeline will cross over the picturesque Rogue River and deliver irrigation water into the Tokay Irrigation Canal, which is on the north side of the river.


8. Thank all of the above if the Grants Pass Irrigation District goes broke, a victim of a financial death spiral. GPID is in for a very rough financial ride in the future even assuming that there is an infusion of $30+ Million for dam removal and pump installation...presuming the US Congress is stupid enough to appropriate that much money to remove a dam that kills virtually no salmon or steelhead.


At an estimated annual cost of $350,000 to $500,000 to provide power for electrically operated water pumps, which will replace hydro-turbine pumps that have been operating since 1921 without consuming any energy $$$, GPID patrons should expect an increase of $35-50 dollars per acre for irrigation water. Water that is delivered to approximately 10,000 acres of land in Josephine County...mostly small irrigated garden parcels that probably don't justify more expensive irrigation water.


If enough of GPID's patrons leave the irrigation district, and if GPID goes belly-up, the rest of the Grants Pass community will suffer reductions of water in residential wells and they will be subjected to the browning of thousands of acres in their water-dependent ecosystem.


9. Thank the entire environmental movement for foisting fraudulently based reasons for removal of Savage Rapids Dam upon Southern Oregon. Thank them for demanding the replacement of a non-polluting, hydro-turbine pumping system at the dam with electrically operated pumps that will consume power generated by coal burning, electricity generating plants in Wyoming, which is the primary source for electricity consumed in Josephine County. Thank them for the perverse benefit this will bring to the environment...burning coal instead of using gravity at a non-polluting hydro-turbine irrigation dam.


10. Especially thank the apathy of residents of Josephine County and the City of Grants Pass. The almost total lack of public support for saving Savage Rapids Dam was the final nail in the coffin of this low-cost method of delivering water to an arid community. The people of the community surrounded by this dam didn't care enough to make even a minimal effort to protect their own source of water. To them...may they remember that they are the cause of their own future water shortages.


In my finale to this monologue...I offer the following snippets of information about my unsuccessful efforts to save Savage Rapids Dam and to save Josephine County from the potential loss of its critically needed irrigation water: 

During 1996, I was the Chairman of former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber's Task Force on Savage Rapids Dam. I learned to have complete disdain for Kitzhaber as a result of his prolonged effort to force the removal of the dam.


The SRD Task Force made a recommendation to Governor Kitzhaber that Savage Rapids Dam be kept, and that its fish ladders and pumping system be modified to improve fish passage for salmon and steelhead. Kitzhaber trashed the consensus recommendation of the Task Force and engaged his administration in joint Oregon State/Federal participation in lawsuits against the Grants Pass Irrigation District (GPID) to force removal of the dam.


During 1998-99, lawsuits were brought against the Grants Pass Irrigation District under the Endangered Species Act. These lawsuits claimed that Savage Rapids Dam was killing coho salmon, salmon that had been declared a "threatened species" under the ESA.


In fact, the ESA's "threatened" designation for Northwest coho salmon has since been found to be a fraud by the US Federal Court for Oregon. This species is not threatened, and was never threatened with extinction in northwest rivers. The ESA "threatened" designation for this species was specifically designed and used to attack the existence of Savage Rapids Dam. In 1998, GPID and Savage Rapids Dam were the only targets of ESA litigation in western America by the Clinton Administration, with the encouragement of the Kitzhaber Administration.


During the lengthy ESA lawsuit, a federal judge in Oregon was assigned to mediate negotiations between GPID, environmentalists, commercial fishermen, the State of Oregon and the Federal Government. I personally headed the GPID negotiation effort.


During months of negotiations that took place in US Federal Courthouses in Portland and Eugene, Oregon, opponents of the dam consistently refused to accept any form of negotiated settlement that could have removed the dam at a cost substantially less than $30-Million. I proposed a number of alternatives that would have allowed dam removal while providing adequate financial guarantees for the future of GPID and the protection of the Rogue River watershed below the dam. Hunter, WaterWatch and other dam opponents persistently refused to accept any negotiated solution that didn't call for the complete and unilateral surrender of GPID to the demands of its enemies.


During the US Federal Court's mediated negotiations, the single most repugnant refusal by Hunter and WaterWatch was their determined opposition to any Federally funded provision in any dam removal plan that would have provided funding for protection of the Rogue River ecosystem from inundation by sediments now captive above the dam and their refusal to support Federal funding for enhanced recreational opportunities in the Rogue River corridor below the dam following the elimination of the recreational lake impounded by the dam since 1921. Hunter and WaterWatch adamantly refused to support Federal funding for a comprehensive dam removal plan projected to cost $17-Million in 1999. Now Hunter and WaterWatch are trying to convince the US Congress to provide $30-Million for a dam removal plan that still provides no protection for the Rogue River ecosystem and no guarantee for the future financial integrity of GPID.


So, as we fast forward to 2005. GPID is nearing the 2005-06 deadline for removal of Savage Rapids Dam. GPID has no alternative to removal because its 2000 Board of Directors accepted full and complete acquiescence to the demands of WaterWatch, an assemblage of environmental organizations, the Kitzhaber Administration's Department of Justice and the Clinton Administrations' Justice Department.


The ultimate irony about Savage Rapids Dam is that it doesn't kill a significant number of either salmon or steelhead. This is no idle claim. During my tenure as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of GPID in 1998-99, the irrigation district employed highly qualified fisheries biologists to study fish kill at the dam. The data proved, conclusively, that this dam had been wrongfully accused of being the "Biggest Fish Killer on the Rogue River", a claim made repeated by environmentalists and local newspapers in Southern Oregon.


So...Southern Oregon now approaches the moment of truth.


And, the Grants Pass Daily Courier pronounces "Savage Rapids total: $30 Million" on the front page of its May 19, 2005, edition. $30-Million of taxpayers' money proposed for payment of the partial removal of a dam that doesn't kill fish...removal which is based on the US Bureau of Reclamation's falsified claims in 1994 that 22% of all salmon and steelhead are killed passing the dam...a false conclusion that has been repeatedly quoted by WaterWatch, by the Grants Pass Daily Courier, by the Medford Mail Tribune, and by other media outlets.


The mythical fish killing dam story was repeated so frequently in the media and from the mouths of enviros, that to this day, most people in Southern Oregon don't even question its accuracy...they just gullibly accept it along with similar environmental BS that has been spoon fed to them through a complicit media. 

Frankly, I no longer give a damn about the adverse impacts that removing Savage Rapids Dam may have on other residents of Grants Pass or Josephine County. I've moved on. If GPID does go belly-up, I'll just purchase my irrigation water direct from the US Corps of Engineers at $8.00 per acre-foot (1-foot of water covering an acre of land) right out of the Rogue River that flows behind my property. The rest of Grants Pass and Josephine County can revert to the arid ecosystem of the pre-GPID, pre-1920's period, an ecosystem that was called the "Red Desert" by Native Americans in this area.


Those who refuse to rise in their own defense, or who refuse to rise in the defense of their own communities, deserve the outcome... regardless of the severity of the impact or the magnitude of the personal cost that befalls them due of their own apathy or stupidity.


Dennis M. Becklin, Publisher







Contact info: Dennis M. Becklin may be reached at dennis@SouthernOregonNews.com.






Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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